It’s no secret that California has a ton to offer. The Golden State has something to suit every taste, from world-famous beaches with dazzling seaside communities, to incredible national parks, cozy mountain towns, and hip cosmopolitan cities.

Another major draw is that California is a year-round destination, so it’s always a great time to plan a vacation! Some spots even come to life in the colder months, making for the ideal winter getaway. Whether travelers are looking to escape the cold in sunny SoCal or score some fresh powder on the ski slopes, here are some not-to-be-missed destinations in California to consider this winter.

10/10 Solvang

Solvang, California Unsplash

Solvang, California

Located about 45 minutes east of beachy Santa Barbara sits the adorable town of Solvang. This small Danish village feels like Christmas all year round, and has an especially cozy ambiance in the wintertime. Visitors can enjoy unique activities like horse-drawn carriage rides and live outdoor theater.

The surrounding Santa Ynez Valley boasts a large concentration of wineries, tasting rooms and an excellent selection of vinos also abound in Solvang. The town is also rich in history, art, and an overall European sense of European culture.

9/10 Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, California via Unsplash

Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe is home to the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America (15 in total) so it’s obvious why this California destination is a winter wonderland. The sparkling blue lake adds to the magic when its surrounding redwoods are blanketed with a fresh coating of snow.

Adding to Lake Tahoe’s appeal for snowsports enthusiasts, the area sees over 300 sunny days per year. This makes for excellent riding conditions when combined with the immense snowfalls.

There is no shortage of activities for non-skiers either. Take a gondola ride at South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort for breathtaking views.

The resort villages are packed with shopping, drinking, and dining options that everyone can enjoy, and The Village at Northstar has an ice-skating rink and outdoor fire pits too.

RELATED: 10 Lake Tahoe Cabins You Should Book This Winter

8/10 San Francisco

San Francisco, California skyline at night via Unsplash

San Francisco, California skyline at night

Thanks to its temperate climate, San Francisco is an excellent destination to visit at any time of the year, including winter. In fact, the long-fabled quote, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” is in reference to the less-than-ideal summer weather.

Crowds in the winter are significantly lighter, making for shorter lines and a more enjoyable experience whether visiting the incredible museums the city has to offer or ticking off bucket-list activities like Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The City by the Bay is also known for its culinary scene, and dining and drinking is always an excellent winter go-to.

RELATED: If You’re A Foodie, Here’s Why The Ferry Building Market Is For You

7/10 Ojai

Downtown Ojai, California Shutterstock

Downtown Ojai, California

With a fairly mild climate, plenty to see and do, and an abundance of beautiful places to stay. Ojai is a great option for a winter getaway.

With locally-sourced everything and no chain retailers, visitors will be met with a tantalizing array of local, farm-to-table dining options. The downtown also features an eclectic mix of shopping, including art galleries, kombucha breweries, crystal shops, and bookstores.

With its location between Los Padres National Forest and the Topatopa Mountains, there is no shortage of hiking opportunities.

Be sure to bring the camera along to capture the ‘pink moment’ of alpenglow just after the sunset. Ojai’s electromagnetic force field is long believed to have healing properties, making it a favorite wellness destination too.

6/10 Mammoth Lakes

vacation rental in Mammoth Lakes, California via Unsplash

Vacation rental in Mammoth Lakes, California

A quintessential ski town in the Sierra Nevadas, Mammoth enjoys one of the longest ski seasons in the United States. The 200+ runs across two major resorts are often open for nearly six months of the year, from November – May.

The Inyo National Forest also provides excellent terrain for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing for those who aren’t into downhill terrain.

Mammoth Lakes is also home to an extensive network of hot springs. What better way to relax the muscles after a long day on the slopes than a natural hot tub? While not all hot springs are suitable for soaking, visitors can submerse themselves in what is called the Boiling River.

Travertine Hot Springs is another excellent option; soak in the warm pools while surrounded by absolutely jaw-dropping mountain vistas.

5/10 Napa Valley

wine bar in Napa Valley, California via Unsplash

Wine bar in Napa Valley, California

As one of the world’s most famous wine regions, the crowds are thick throughout most of the year. Visiting Napa Valley in winter provides a reprieve, while the mercury generally doesn’t plunge too low in its temperate climate.

Take a wine tour, hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train, and explore the charming downtown. Wintertime in Napa Valley is nicknamed ‘Cabernet season’ and it’s the perfect vino to sip next to a cozy fireplace or at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants on offer.

Besides wine, Napa Valley is full of luxurious resorts that are perfect for some rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Many of them are built around geothermal hot springs and offer a wide range of spa and wellness services.

Try a natural mud bath when visiting too. The off-season enjoys significantly lower accommodation prices, so visiting in the winter months is more budget-friendly.

4/10 San Diego

aerial view of San Diego, California via Unsplash

Aerial view of San Diego, California

With mild weather and minimal crowds, most San Diego locals will tell vacationers that winter is one of their favorite times of the year. There is ample sunshine and daytime highs tend to hold steady in the 70s, so even if the water is chilly a day at the beach can still be enjoyed.

January – March are prime whale migration months, so a whale-watching boat tour is sure to provide a memorable experience.

A longstanding winter tradition in San Diego is ice skating by the sea at the Hotel Del on neighboring Coronado Island. Grab a drink afterward and watch a stunning sunset over the Pacific.

Visitors should explore Old Town San Diego too, and indulge in tacos and tequila (the area has a heavy Mexican influence).

While Old Town is inundated with hoards of tourists in the summer, winter is far more pleasant. The area is rich in history, and it is worth partaking in a guided walking tour.

3/10 Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California via Unsplash

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs rose to notoriety in the 1950s as a desert escape for the Hollywood elite. It has retained part of the glamorous feel of a bygone era, with meticulously-restored Thunderbirds in pastel hues parked a common sight around town.

Mid-century architecture and history is prominent throughout the town and can be best enjoyed through a guided tour (bus or walking).

While temperatures are near unbearable in the summer months, winter is the perfect time for a Palm Springs vacation. It’s warm enough to lounge poolside during the day with temps consistently hovering in the 70s accompanied by endless sunshine.

Palm Springs is also an internationally-renowned golf destination. With well over 100 courses nearby, it has earned the title of the ‘golf capital of the world’.

RELATED: These Driving Tours Of Palm Springs Make It Easy To See Famous Landmarks

2/10 Big Bear

ski slopes in Big Bear, California via Unsplash

Ski slopes in Big Bear, California

Located only about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Big Bear is one of the most convenient options for hitting the slopes in Southern California. Home to two ski resorts, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, there is a diverse mix of terrain on offer to suit all levers of skiers and snowboarders.

Due to its geographic location, the temperatures are milder than in many other ski areas. Daytime highs tend to be in the low 40s, with nighttime temps in the 20s.

Off the slopes, it is worth exploring not only Big Bear Village but also Lake Arrowhead and other surrounding areas in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Santa even has his own enchanted alpine village here, which operates year-round. While at its most festive from November – January, there are fun activities to enjoy all winter long at the SkyPark at Santa’s Village.

1/10 Death Valley

Death Valley, California via Unsplash

Death Valley, California

Considering that Death Valley is famous for being literally the hottest place on earth (as well as the driest and lowest place in the United States), it’s no surprise that visiting in the wintertime is an excellent option.

During these months, temperatures hold steady in the 60s and 70s. It’s an ideal climate for exploring the unique landscape of Death Valley and the nearby Mojave National Preserve.

The various hiking trails and vantage points in Death Valley and the surrounding areas are spectacular for viewing the area’s sunrise and sunsets.

The dramatic landscape of salt flats, canyons, sand dunes, clay badlands, and rock formations feel almost other-worldly. Stay at the Inn at Death Valley for special touches like outdoor fireplaces and a heated pool.


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